Its not ALL hard work ..... we have plenty of fun too!
Hard to believe I know, but Neal and I are now well into our fifth week here at the Oasis in Traiskirchen, where we've been helping out as 'short term volunteers' with the many refugees who've found their way to this beautiful part of Austria.
So for this week's blog I thought I'd change things up a bit, and share with you a little of the 'lighter side' of being part of this wonderful team. For whilst the work here can be pretty exhausting, challenging and often tinged with tragedy and heartbreak, we do get opportunities for 'down time' - chances to relax together, explore the local area, get aquainted with local customs and culture and have some simple good old-fashioned fun! So I'll pick out just a few of the fun things we've been privileged to enjoy recently, and finish by adding as many photos at the end of the blog as the website will allow!
Our first taste of local culture here in the Baden region came when team members Julie, Stephanie and her husband Jeremy invited us to visit a local 'Heurigen' at the end of week one. According to 'Trip Advisor' a Heurigen is an open-air wine tavern, peculiar to this area of Eastern Austria, being the richest wine-growing area in the country. Heuriger means "this year's wine", and the Heurigen began as a way for winemakers to offer tastings of their new wine with a few nibbles, and hopefully sell a few bottles. With the advent of mass tourism, Heurigen evolved into year-round ventures serving full meals, often accompanied by traditional Viennese Schrammel music played on the accordion and violin.
This Heurigen however, was no ordinary affair. It was a 'Gross Heurigen' (a coming together of many Heurigen) held annually in the local village of Pfaffstatten. Evidently this is one of the most popular events in the region, and visitors come from Vienna and other towns all over Austria to sample the year's new wines. An entire street in the village was blocked to traffic and local wine-making families set up their little taverns on either side of the road. In the centre was a raised stage hosting live Austrian folk music, dancing and a beautiful traditional costume 'fashion parade.' There were games for the children, balloons, pony and tractor rides .... the whole thing reminded me of a typical English village fete (just a shame we don't have as many vineyards in the UK, huh?)
The first two photos below were taken in the vineyard we walk through every day on our way to the Oasis. Its been so exciting watching the grapes ripen over the weeks. The next few photos were taken at the Pfaffstatten Gross Heurigen. The delicious drink Neal is consuming is called a Himbeerbowle - a huge helping of plump locally grown raspberries marinated in a large glass of fabulous new red wine (definitely not for the faint hearted)
The following weekend Julie (like us, a great lover of the mountains) phoned us out of the blue, asking if we'd like to join her, Steph and Jeremy on a hike into the local mountains. We didn't need to be asked twice! Jumping at the chance, we grabbed our walking gear, packed a picnic and the five of us piled into Julie's little Smart Car for the 40 minute ride into the mountains above Baden! Even though the weather wasn't the best that day, we had a wonderful time hiking, chatting, getting to know each other better and just enjoying the beauty of God's creation. The simple wooden cross that suddenly came into view at the top of Peilstein just took our breath away. So remiscent of the 'High Cross' at Ffald-y-Brenin. We stood together for a few moments overlooking the valley, drinking in the grandeur of the view before us and praying for the refugees, and the Goverment and people of Austria. There are five photos from our hike included at the end of this blog.
After church on the Sunday of our second weekend, Neal and I decided to take a walk along the local railway path into Baden. It only took around 45 minutes, all very flat so not at all arduous. Baden is a beautiful little town. We thought it was quite strange that our nearest city at home is beautiful Bath - an ancient and prosperous spa town. The nearest city to the Oasis is called Baden - which means Bath! It is also a wealthy spa town and like 'our Bath' at home, is a centre of excellence for arts and music. The beautiful Kurs Park in the centre of Baden plays host to free classical concerts every weekend throughout the summer. We saw posters everywhere advertising various orchestral and string quartet concerts, piano recitals and even some big band jazz events .... and promised each other we'd try to attend at least one!
Our opportunity came sooner than we thought, in the form of yet another invitation from Julie and Steph (Jeremy was out of town) to join them for a 'moonlight piano recital' in the park at 9pm one evening. What an amazing and unforgettable experience! We clambered up a steep grassy hill to the top of the park where they'd somehow managed to carry and position a full sized grand piano under a small canopy. We lay on the grass where we could either look down over the city lights or stare up into the majestic velvety black star-studdied sky, while listening to a very competent pianist playing Chopin Nocturnes, Beethoven Sonatas and Bach Preludes and Fugues ..... just awesome! I took some photos (poor quality but I hope you'll get a sense of how lovely it was)
Of course, not all experiences are positive! We had a huge shock when after long walk around Baden Rosarium we stopped at a lake-side cafe for a cold drink. Neal ordered two glasses of coke, which were brought to our table by a smartly dressed waiter, along with a bill for 11.20 Euros!
There's a small room on the top floor of the Oasis which Carol has wanted for some time to turn into a little personal office. Our recent experiences helping our son Andy and Sarah re-decorate their home gave us confidence to offer to take on this project. As is usually the case, nothing is as simple as it first appears - we'd appreciate your prayers that we will be able to overcome any 'niggling little obstacles' and get this room wallpapered, painted and carpeted nicely for her before we leave!
I've also had the opportunity to remember what its like to cook for a large family. Last night I prepared a mega-sized stewpot of lentil dahl which we served with hot fresh-baked baguettes and butter for the nine team members at our team brunch today. I'm sure you'll smile at the photo of Neal carrying the pot to the car in the pouring rain first thing this morning. We were so grateful for a ride on what has been the coldest and rainiest day since we've been here (but absolutely perfect weather for a big comforting bowl of lentil dahl) I'm happy to report it went down a treat!
Well dear ones, I'm fast running out of room and its getting pretty late, so I'll bid you all a very good night and God's richest blessings! Thanking you all for your prayers, encouragement and love. We couldn't do any of this without you. We miss you all hugely, but still feel very privileged and happy to be here.
Oh, I should add that if you click on each of the photos below you'll see I've added a short description for you (or you can watch them as a 'slideshow'!)
Until next week .....
Neal & Lesley